Based on the hit Broadway play by Frederick Knott, fifty years after its initial theatrical release, the last fifteen minutes of Wait Until Dark has lost none of its memorable bite. Audrey Hepburn received her fifth Oscar nomination for her performance as Susy Hendrix, a woman who, having lost her sight just a year earlier in a car accident, is still adjusting to life as a blind person. When you consider that Hepburn’s screen persona had been built around classy, continental elegance, her willingness to play a disabled and seemingly vulnerable woman in a horror-thriller is a bit of a surprise.
Susy has a photographer husband named Sam (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) whom she met and married sometime after her accident. He’s supportive, but tough on her. “Do I have to be the world’s champion blind lady?” she asks Sam as he encourages her self-reliance. Susy does have the help of 14-year old Gloria (Julie Herrod) who comes by to help her with errands, but can be a bit of a brat.
Sam has just flown from Montreal to their apartment in New York City. Also on the flight was the sex Lisa (Samantha Jones) carrying a doll full of heroin. Lisa hands off the doll to the unsuspecting Sam, after she is unexpectedly met by a contact at Kennedy Airport. Sam brings the doll back to the apartment and quickly loses it. Unbeknownst to him and Susy, Lisa accomplice, whose name might be Harry Roat, Jr. (a young Alan Arkin, in just his second film appearance), has hired a pair of low-rent con men, ex-cop Carlino (Jack Weston) and Mike Talman (Richard Crenna), to help find the valuable doll. The two hired guys, manipulated as they are, just want to make a quick buck. Harry though, there’s something sadistic about him and it’s clear he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
From there, Wait Until Dark is one tense moment after another. Shot in very close quarters by director Terrence Young, he expertly manipulates camera angles to make us nervous about Susy’s immediate danger. Early on, as she enters her apartment where the men are hiding out, it takes them a few moments to realize she’s blind. However, even without sight, she’s convinced someone is in there with her, but can’t prove it and leaves. Given her obvious smarts, the fact that Susy continues to show her resourcefulness as the danger increases, only makes you root for her even more.
Roat and his gang begin their plan by playing on Susy’s obvious physical vulnerability, but they don’t account for her mental ability. Susy, with some help from Gloria, begins to fight back with some confidence. She smashes all the light bulbs in the apartment to even the playing field. Brilliant! Roat keeps coming after her, but Susy doesn’t give up. This chilling scene is one of the greats in the slasher genre.
While Wait Until Dark is aided by genuine nail biting moments and strong performance by all of the cast, but it’s Audrey Hepburn’s convincing performance as a blind woman that makes it really special. Her character is as low key in her blindness, appearing to stare at nothing. Her movements are just slightly unsteady, giving us a client to the careful essential with which she has learned to navigate her environment. Hepburn’s body also maintains a stiffness that shows that while she has learned enough to survive the experience of being blind, it’s not yet second nature to her, something you see begin to evolve as the film progresses. Hepburn’s effective blend of physical weakness and mental strength is a large part of why Wait Until Dark remains an effective psychological thriller.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (though packaging incorrectly lists it as 2.35:1), Warner Archive’s 1080p is a marked improvement over the previous DVD release. Though much of the film takes place in a small apartment under artificial light, colors look rather natural throughout. Faces are realistic and there’s no real print damage to mar the proceedings. The overall image has a nice level of clarity.
The DTS-HD 1.0 Mono presentation won’t blow anyone away, but it handles the material well. Both dialogue and Henry Mancini’s unique score are well balanced and clear. Dynamic range is surprisingly good throughout.
English subtitles are included, oddly though, they’re formatted in all caps.
The extras from the 2003 DVD have been ported over:
- Featurette: Take a Look in the Dark: Alan Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer reminisce about the making of the film.
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- “Warning” Teaser Trailer